Who's responsible for another major Phillies setback?

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Who's responsible for another major Phillies setback?

He said he felt “really great.” He said he was “pain free.” He said he was in a “really good position to progress.” He said so a week ago.

On Thursday, Cole Hamels said something different.

The lefthander, who is dealing with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder, informed reporters in Clearwater that his body was telling him to “take a step back and start over.” How do you take a step back from feeling really great and pain free? That is some curious footwork.

“I felt good when I threw my last bullpen, everything was great,” Hamels said about last Saturday’s session. “But later that day and the next day, my arm felt fatigued. After 35 pitches, my body felt like I had thrown 1,000.”

That is a powerful and troubling statement. Here’s what you prefer not to hear from your 30-year-old front-of-rotation pitcher: That throwing a handful of pitches in early March makes him feel like his arm might fall off. That is generally bad news for a team that's counting on the same pitcher to help the Phils recover from last season's dreadful campaign.

Hamels said the best way to describe his condition is “dead arm or frozen arm.” You’re forgiven if the colloquialisms don’t anesthetize your concerns. You’re also forgiven if you don’t quite understand why Hamels said there are no plans for a cortisone injection or even an MRI.

How is that possible? How is it that the Phillies' front office isn’t insisting on extensive tests? Hamels is on a six-year, $144 million contract. For that kind of money, Ruben Amaro Jr. should load him into a car and take him to the hospital every time Hamels gets the sniffles. You can’t be too careful.

A week ago, Hamels trumpeted his progression. Now we’re left to talk about this unexpected regression. Or maybe it’s not so unexpected. This is how the last few spring trainings have gone for the Phillies. If spring is about hope for most teams, it has recently been something much darker for the Phils.

A year ago, Roy Halladay showed up in Clearwater and said he felt better than he had in a while. He imploded early in the season, had surgery, made a brief return, was eventually shut down again, and then retired. You might recall he had arm fatigue.

Last spring, Ryan Howard reported to camp and declared he felt fine. He had been dealing with Achilles and knee issues but said he was healthy. Then he played 80 games last season. He played 71 the year before. If you’re wondering, he came to spring training this year and said he’s ship-shape.

In February 2011, Chase Utley said he had some knee pain that “comes and goes.” He was listed as day-to-day, which was technically true. Days came and days went and Utley missed the first 46 games of that season. He played 103 games in 2011.

Utley also reported knee pain during spring training in 2012. Again, it was explained as a wait-and-see thing. Utley chose therapy over surgery. He missed the first 77 outings that season and appeared in just 83 games.

The observant have no doubt recognized a disquieting pattern. Player shows up for spring training. Player is dealing with some physical issue. Player says there’s nothing to worry about. Player suffers a setback. Nothing to worry about becomes something. And now here we are once more, mired in injury limbo with a younger player (relatively speaking) the Phils can ill-afford to lose.

“I think, ultimately, when people think shoulder and not being able to throw a baseball, they think injuries, tears, the pain indication,” Hamels said. “It’s not that. It’s really tired and it was kind of more difficult to go through the throwing motion, let alone try to throw something very competitive.

“The shoulder really doesn’t want to throw the ball the way I want to against hitters. My muscles just weren’t responding. And you have to listen to the way your body responds.”

You have to wonder how this continues to happen and who’s ultimately responsible. Because the way it keeps playing out, it feels like the Phils' medical evaluation protocol mirrors what used to occur in pick-up games in your neighbor’s backyard. Someone would hurt something, and then someone else would ask if he’s OK, and then the first someone would say yes. We’re at the point now where it wouldn’t be surprising if Hamels said he would try to walk it off or rub some dirt on it.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin: Adam Morgan is a definite bullpen candidate

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Just pitch.
 
Don’t worry about the role.
 
Just pitch.
 
That’s Adam Morgan’s mindset this spring.
 
“I’m just trying to show whoever needs to see it that I can be an asset to this team,” the left-hander said after his spring debut against the New York Yankees on Saturday (see story). “I’m just keeping it simple that way. I’m not trying to go out for that fifth (starting) spot. If the fifth spot opens up, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want to put me in the bullpen, I’d be more than willing to do that. If they want me to be the backup catcher, I’ll be the backup catcher.”
 
The Phillies have plenty of candidates for backup catcher.
 
And the top five spots in their starting rotation, barring an unforeseen development, are accounted for.
 
But there is a way for Morgan to make this team.
 
“He’s definitely a bullpen candidate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
Mackanin is on record as saying he’d like to have two lefties in what likely will be a seven-man bullpen. It might not work out that way, but that would be Mackanin’s preference.
 
Morgan is one of what appears to be four candidates along with Joely Rodriguez, Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett. Ramos and Burnett are experienced major-league veterans in camp on minor-league contracts. Rodriguez is the only pure lefty reliever on the 40-man roster. Morgan, of course, is on the 40-man roster, but he’s mainly been a starter in his career.

There’s a long way to go in spring training and it would not be surprising to see general manager Matt Klentak add to the list of lefty relief candidates with some type of pickup before the end of camp.
 
But for now, it’s just these four.
 
Morgan, who turns 27 on Monday, started and pitched two scoreless innings against the Yankees on Saturday and will likely continue to have his innings stretched out throughout the Grapefruit League season, just in case he’s needed as a starter.

Ramos and Rodriguez both pitched an inning Saturday. Ramos allowed a hit and a run. Rodriguez had a clean inning. Burnett was tagged for two hits and two runs on Friday.
 
Morgan made 21 starts for the Phillies last season. He also made two relief appearances and finished the season with a 6.04 ERA. He was sent to Triple A in July and returned in mid-August. He made nine starts after returning and pitched at least six innings and gave up two or fewer earned runs in four of them.
 
During his time in Triple A, Morgan started throwing a two-seam fastball or sinker. He’s continued to throw it this spring and believes it will help him.
 
“I learned to trust the two-seamer last year and that’s what I hope to keep moving forward with,” he said.
 
Will it take him to the Phillies’ bullpen?
 
He hopes so. He got a taste of relieving last season and liked it.
 
“Oh, yeah, I loved it,” he said. “Every time the phone rang down there, I was on high alert. It was awesome. It’s a rush.
 
“But wherever I land, I land. I’d be willing to play anywhere on this team.”

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin assembled what will probably end up being his opening day lineup for Saturday’s spring home opener against the Yankees.

He liked what he saw.

Especially from cleanup man Maikel Franco.

Franco’s big challenge in becoming a more complete player is to improve his selectivity at the plate. The 24-year-old third baseman looked pretty good in that area in three at-bats.

Franco fell behind 0-2 in his first at-bat then battled back to a full count before popping out in the second inning.

He smacked a homer to left on a 2-2 slider in the fourth and then in the sixth, he stroked a first-pitch gapper to left-center that went for an inside-the-park homer. The ball got stuck under the padding on the outfield wall and the umpire did not rule it a ground-rule double.

“Hey, you see my speed?” the not-so-fleet-footed Franco said with a laugh after coming out of the game. “It’s like Cesar’s (Hernandez) speed.”

Mackanin liked the totality of Franco’s at-bats, not just the results.

“He had two long, deep-count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “He worked the count deep and that was good to see.”

There are many miles to go before opening day, and Franco still has many miles to cover before he’s the complete player he wants to be and the selective hitter the front office wants to build around.

Franco vowed to keep working on it under new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

“He told me my focus should be when I stay to the middle of the field, I'll have a lot of success,” Franco said. “I am trying to work on it and put focus on it. I talked to (Howie) Kendrick about hitting and he's helped me. I'm going to stay on it every single day. I'm trying to do my job, trying to do the best I can.

“When I stay in the middle, when I try to hit the ball up the middle, something is going to happen. That's what I want to do, what I want to keep doing.”

Franco hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs last season, but his on-base percentage was just .306.

He was asked whether he had any personal goals for the season.

“The first thing is to try to be healthy,” he said. “I just want to play in 162 games. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can do.

“Every single day I want to do my best and not try to force the situation. I think I can do better than last year. This year should be very good and much better than last year.”

The game 
The Phillies won it, 6-5, on a walk-off RBI single by Brock Stassi in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit scored Rhys Hoskins, who had doubled. Hoskins drove a homer to deep center earlier in the game.

Hoskins, who turns 24 in March, has 55 homers and 206 RBIs the last two seasons. He will move to Triple A this season and play first base.

Stassi is a candidate to win a job on the bench (see story). He hasn’t hurt himself in the first two games. He homered Friday and had the game-winning hit Saturday.

“I’m feeling pretty good early on,” he said. “Gotta keep it going.”

Pitching in
Adam Morgan pitched two scoreless innings. Prospect Ricardo Pinto pitched a scoreless inning. It’s not out of the question that he transitions to the bullpen at some point this season.

Mark Appel showed his big stuff with three strikeouts in two innings of work, but his control problems also surfaced as he threw a wild pitch that resulted in two runs.

Up next
Probable opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson makes his spring debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Here is the Phillies’ posted lineup for that game:

1. Cameron Perkins CF
2. J.P. Crawford SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Cameron Rupp DH 
5. Andres Blanco 2B
6. Dylan Cozens RF
7. Ryan Hanigan C
8. Brock Stassi 1B
9. Taylor Featherston 3B

Right-hander Joe Biagini will start for Toronto.

Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies against Tampa Bay on Monday. Clay Buchholz will start against Baltimore on Tuesday. Both of those games are in Clearwater.